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Red Sea Above and Beneath its Surface

Every nation has a natural attraction that it’s known for. In terms of Eritrea, it’s the Red Sea. The name Eritrea comes from the name of the Red Sea, which was once called the Erythrean Sea, derived from the Greek word for the color red, or “erythros.” The identity of the Red Sea rests on its rich ecological diversity. On account of this rich possession, the government pays large attention to the sea.

Eritrea has the advantage of its relatively perfect coastal environment to capitalize on and develop the coastal assets sustainably through Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM). The first goal of the government’s ICAM included a “state of the coast” plan to serve as one of the building blocks for the preparation of the integrated coastal management plan and associated guidelines by sectors. The reason for this was that it inherited a vast, virgin, unpolluted, under-exploited and undercapitalized marine resource.

Integrated coastal zone management is an ongoing process involving not only planning the coastal zone, but implementation, monitoring and making adjustments based on monitoring results and new information about potential opportunities. For these reasons, ICAM is a priority in the National Development agenda of the government. Its implementation requires considerable effort, including assessment of the state of the coast based on existing national policies, rules and regulations and studies; on training of managers, scientists and operatives, and identification of information gaps, specific natural resources and socio-economic surveys.

The Eritrean Red Sea is generally recognized as being highly favorable for the development of artisanal fisheries, which is local traditional fishing along shallow waters. There are a number of important coral reef areas, extensive surface of soft bottoms and numerous shelters of the Dahlak archipelago plateau. To the north and south of this plateau there is a short distance to the continental shelf break. These are just a few of the many conditions conductive to development. Outside the coralline zones, its sedimentary floors, while not particularly attractive for artisanal demersal fishing activities, they offer quite favorable conditions for bottom trawling operation.

The Ministry of Marine resources is dealing with the development of Aquaculture. Aquaculture is the other big arm of fisheries in the world at the moment. Most of the fishery products that we consume from the final market come through aquaculture. The first aquaculture initiative was developed during the armed struggle for independence in the late 1980’s. Milkifish, mullet and tilapia were grown in ponds of the northern part of Eritrean Red Sea. After independence, small- scale research oriented efforts were made to culture mullet, artemia and others under the ministry of fisheries. Finfish, shellfish, and marine plant are among the priority plans to be introduced to further develop the aquaculture.
Diversified coral reef communities, extensive mangrove mud flats, sea grass or seaweed beds and standing kelps harbor c o m m e r c i a l l y – d i v e r s i fi e d , important fishery resources. The objective was to develop, produce and market aquacultural and agri-products using integrated seawater farming and proper technologies, in order to generate wealth, improve human welfare and enhance environment.

Living coral reefs support thousands of species including crustaceans, fishes, sponges, algae and molluscs. In addition, coral reef as one of the essential life-support systems is necessary for food production, health and other aspects of human survival and sustainable development. For centuries coral reefs have formed a vital component of coastal economies in many tropical countries. Similarly, along the 1,350 km Eritrean coastline (18% of the Red Sea) and around most of its 350 islands, coral reef is common, occurring as patches in a pristine condition. Between 1993 and 2006, numerous surveys and expeditions have been conducted to study the status of Eritrean coral reef and purpose an appropriate management strategy.

Dr. John Charlie Veron from Australia, the world leading taxonomist on coral reefs, published work in November 2007 indicating that there was a high diversity in corals and fishes in many parts of Red Sea coast and around the islands. At least 38 existing coral genera and 220 species have been recorded, including species such as acropora, echinopora, favia, favites, fungia, galaxea and so on. The most common reef fishes are achnthride, chaetodontidea, haemulidea, libridea, lutjanidae, lethrinide, sphyranidae, pomacentridae, serranide, siganidea, muraenidae and scaridae.

Sea grass beds also produce sediments from the associated fauna and interact with coral reefs and mangroves in reducing wave energy and regulating water movement. The recent findings indicate that out of the 60 species existing worldwide, the 10 located in the Red sea are found in Eritrean waters.

Likewise, seaweeds are non-flowering water plants that have the ability to grow from a few centimeters up to several centimeters long and are attached to hard bottom. Out of the 26 common sea weed species identified, 9 species are green algae, 9 brown algae, and 4 red algae. Spatially, the distribution of seaweeds is not uniform along the Eritrean coastline and islands. Sargassum and Turbinaria sea weeds are the most dominant over rocky substrate on areas such as the southern part of Gurgussum, Dehil and Baradu, while they cover a relatively small portion of the muddy bottoms of the southern Red Sea coastal area of Tio, Sahil, Harrasan, Morah and Mersa Fatma.

Similarly, about 380 km of the Eritrean mainland and island’s coastline are occupied by mangrove forests. Of the seven mangrove species present in the Red sea area, three are present in Eritrea, along the mainland and on numerous islands. These species, specifically, are avicenna marina, rhizophra mucronata and ceriops tag.

The biodiversity of the Red Sea is quite vast with high endemic species. So far, apart from collecting and drying and mixing these species with animal feed, nothing has been done. The Ministry of Marine resources is still carrying out experiments for the consumption purpose. The Ministry is also in the process of experimenting potential species for the development of aquaculture, which aims for large-scale production on bit fin fish, bit shell fish (like oyster) and bit seaweeds that are types of algae. Besides, it is in the process of developing its research in experiment capacity to utilize this resources in terms of aquaculture in the future. Even though, the Ministry is engaged in many other previous experiments, these experiments are ongoing momentarily. Once they are developed and adopted the technics they are going to yield high production.

After all, the main purpose of the Ministry is improving the ecology of the coastline community which depends on fishing. Aquaculture also depends on fishing. In addition to fishing, there are a number of activities that can create jobs for the coastline community and impact its role in the socio-economic dimension. This definitely will have a significance in improving the income of the community, their nutrition and their wellbeing.

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